Provincetown Art News and Information

Taste of Provincetown East End Art Galleries

Published: Fri August 18, 2006
By: Straight Dope in Art > Paintings
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By Cate McQuaid | Boston Globe

Provincetown’s tiny East End is like Newbury Street in overdrive. The art season is at its height here, where the galleries stay open seven days a week and shows often turn over every two weeks.

DNA Gallery is back up to speed, after hitting a bump last year as director Nick Lawrence focused on his New York gallery and several artists left to open their own space. The strong group show there now ranges from abstract digital photography to lush landscape painting.

Vermont painter Eric Aho’s spectacular large-scale landscapes of melting ice, all painted outdoors, could swallow you up. He’s a gestural painter, not afraid of broad, dramatic strokes that bracingly straddle representation and abstraction. ``January Floe” depicts breaking ice in the foreground with thick, luscious brushstrokes that could have been made with a house painter’s brush. In the background, scratches in wet paint convey bare trees. Aho’s tones are no less vibrant than his gestures: His white is buttery with sunlight; the still water anchoring the canvas’s center is a chilly blue-black.

Dutch artist Tjibbe Hooghiemstra’s landscapes make a strong counterpoint—internal and contemplative compared with Aho’s theatrics. Hooghiemstra’s small drawings on linen brood with dusky atmosphere. He works in charcoal and crayon, barely hinting at the outlines of a scene—in ``Harbour” we see the shape of a boat and a horizon line—but the dusting, scraping, and dripping of dark moods dominate the image.

Francie Randolph’s encaustics look like close-up visions of cells clustering. Randolph applies wax tones, then melts and scrapes, creating a luminous buildup of colors. ``Coral Series #13” has three pale green cells with chilly blue borders; the nucleus of each glows like a hot blue flame.

The duo of Katleen Sterck and Terry Rozo photograph things—their first baby shower, the interior of a Spanish chapel—and then put the images through digital filters that distort and obscure them into abstraction. These are most effective when there’s still a hint of the original source; in ``Spanish Chapels to First Born (Untitled #14)” you can make out wooden ornamentation in the chapel, kaleidoscopically swooping and breaking up. That satisfying tension between the final image and what it portrays can slip away too easily when the artists push the abstraction too far.

Expressing the abstract

The Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s splendid new wing hosts an exhibition of the late abstract painter William H. Littlefield’s work; it’s a companion show to a retrospective at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. James R. Bakker curated both.

Born in Boston and schooled at Harvard, Littlefield settled in Falmouth. He went from being a figurative painter who worked for the WPA to being a moderately successful Abstract Expressionist.

The PAAM show includes several photographs of the artist by Fred McDarrah , a onetime model for Littlefield who went on to become a Village Voice photographer. Some of Littlefield’s correspondence is also on view, so we get a taste of the man as well as the artist.

The paintings evolve from those still partly figurative—``Double Identity” (1950) has two figures, one behind the other, seemingly trapped in an abstract web—to the purely abstract. It’s fascinating to watch Littlefield surrender to line, color, and form. ``Several Clown Heads” (1954) features a looping, criss crossing yellow line, textured with sand, and glowing tones inside the loops. It looks almost like stained glass.

By 1962, with the lovely ``Autumn Wind,” Littlefield integrated the three-dimensional quality of his figures with the passages of bright, dancing color that typified his abstract paintings. Pillowy, almost fleshy forms fold into one another in a giant, fluid embrace.

Playing it straight

The show at Rice/Polak Gallery will appeal to those who prefer straight-out representation. Lisbeth Firmin’s bold street scenes feature dramatic chiaroscuro and forms created from blocks of color. ``Yellow Raincoat” has the sidewalk shining in a loose grid of wet squares. The foreground is all gold, from the light in a window to the broad expanse of a woman’s back, garbed in yellow.

Nick Patten’s quiet, uninhabited interiors are the opposite of Firmin’s energized canvases. Patten, using the geometry of open doors, slatted chairs, and bay windows, creates in his paintings a place for contemplation. ``Returning” has us looking down at the floor beneath a window; blinds hush the sunlight reflected on the wood. A lamp and a chair come in from the sides, framing a place where a child might choose to play alone.

David Mitchell’s ceramic torsos, also up at Rice/Polak, are embarrassing. Mitchell is a good craftsman: The figures are convincingly human, and their patinas are lovely. But he cuts the nude males off at the thigh and, ridiculously, just above the chin, and contorts them in dancerly twists and thrusts. It’s as if he’s trying to imbue them with myth and romance. In today’s age of irony, they’re just laughable.

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